Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Monday, 13 July 2009

Democracy Diner

[Scene opens on a restaurant]

WAITER: Yes sir, what can I get you?

CUSTOMER: Right, I would like a prawn salad, erm followed by, what sort of steak do you have?

WAITER: I’m sorry sir.


WAITER: Yes sir, I think you may have misunderstood how it works here at the Democracy Diner.

CUSTOMER: How it works?

WAITER: Yes sir.

CUSTOMER: So how does it work?

WAITER: Well sir we have a number of menus that we ask you to look at. [He pulls out several menus that are each clearly many metres long. Each one is on different coloured paper]

CUSTOMER: [Takes menus and starts to assess what is on them] I have to look through all of these? But there are thousands of items on each one.

WAITER: That’s right sir.

CUSTOMER: And I’m supposed to choose a meal from all of this?

WAITER: No sir.


WAITER: Sir really doesn’t understand does sir?

CUSTOMER: [Starting to get annoyed] Understand what?

WAITER: OK sir. You have to choose every single meal that you would like for the next 5 years. From one of these menus.

CUSTOMER: Every single meal?

WAITER: Yes sir.

CUSTOMER: For the next 5 years?

WAITER: Yes sir.

CUSTOMER: What, even like supper and brunch and stuff?

WAITER: Yes sir. Every meal.

CUSTOMER: That’s crazy!

WAITER: That’s how we do it here at the Democracy Diner sir.

CUSTOMER: Hang on, so I have to choose the meals I want from each of these menus?

WAITER: No sir, you just choose one menu.


WAITER: Yes sir. And then every single meal is predetermined from that menu for the next 5 years.

CUSTOMER: But what if I want some from one menu and some from another.

WAITER: You can’t do that sir I’m afraid.

CUSTOMER: [pause] So I have to go through each of these menus and decide which one I want to be everything that I eat for the next 5 years.

WAITER: Well not quite sir.

CUSTOMER: But you just said...

WAITER: I said you choose the menu but it won’t necessarily be the one that you get.

CUSTOMER: How do you mean?

WAITER: Well sir, everyone else in the Democracy Diner also gets to choose which menu they fancy and once everyone has chosen, we take the one with the most support and everybody gets the food from that menu for the next 5 years.

CUSTOMER: So there might not be any point in me choosing anyway?

WAITER: Well there could be if it was a close vote.

CUSTOMER: Is it likely to be a close vote?

WAITER: No. You are in a safe vegan seat here I am afraid sir.

CUSTOMER: But I like meat.

WAITER: I’m sorry sir. You can choose the carnivore menu if you like sir but I fear it would be a wasted choice. Carnivores can’t win here, have a look at this bar-chart [shows bar-chart with carnivores a poor third place].

CUSTOMER: So is there anything I can do about this.

WAITER: Not really sir. I suppose you could try to get other people to choose your carnivore menu but you would be unlikely to persuade many people. For many generations they have chosen vegan round here like I said.

CUSTOMER: Right, I’m not having this. I’m off! [starts to leave]

WAITER: That’s your choice of course sir but you will still be served the menu that wins the vote whether you like it for not.

CUSTOMER: [Sits back down] Is there no way we can change it so that there is some from one menu and perhaps some from another? Come on, be reasonable!

WAITER: We have thought about that but the thing is at the Democracy Diner, we like there to be a strong, decisive, clear menu so everyone knows what they are getting.

CUSTOMER: Even if lots of people don’t like or want it?

WAITER: Yes sir.

CUSTOMER: Right well I can see that there’s not really anything I can do about this. I suppose I’d better start going through the Vegan menu and get used to what I am going to be eating for the next 5 years.

WAITER: Well you could do that sir... [Pauses]


WAITER: Only, it’s not very likely that the meals will pan out exactly as it says there.

CUSTOMER: Why not?

WAITER: Well, your lunches and dinners will all be as it says there. That’s a commitment from us. But the more minor meals may end up changing. After all, we can't reasonably be expected to know right now what will be appropriate for you to eat in 4 or 5 years time right now. Can we sir?

CUSTOMER: But if things are going to change, why don’t I get a choice over how they change?

WAITER: Because we choose for you. Based on what you chose originally. Subject to changes.

[Customer looks agog]

WAITER: Would sir like a drink whilst he is waiting.

CUSTOMER: Yes, go on then. I’ll have a white wine... [sees Waiter shaking his head] What?

WAITER: No sir, I’m afraid it doesn’t work like that.

CUSTOMER: How does it work then?

WAITER: Well, we source our drinks from “Upper House Beverages”. So a panel of people including some whose ancestors were good at choosing drinks along with some other people who used to create menus have chosen the drinks you are allowed......

[Swannee whistle, Curtain]


Anonymous said...

Sir really does not get it. If you want to get just what you want, live on a desert island. There are a number of political systems, but none of them are about getting what you want. Whether it's democracy, dictatorship, oligarchy, etc., they are all about getting what other people want. Get used to it. Either that, or be the dictator yourself - but you might find some competition.

SWC said...

Mark Thompson has an excellent satire of the voting system today. While part of it is a call for proportional representation, the rest raises issues that can only be solved with Anytime Voting.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Sir Humphrey!

Cardinal Richelieu's mole said...

HEAD WAITER: Leave that curtain; I will look after this customer.

WAITER: [under breath] If you think so…..

HEAD WAITER: Now Sir, have you been to a Democracy Diner before? Well not to wor.. ..oh you have! Well now then Sir, surely you realise this has its advantages!

CUSTOMER: I do but as I tried to explain to you junior colleague, I am less than pleased at how I can’t actually get what I choose, and the choices I am presented with are more apparent than real.

HEAD WAITER: Yes Sir - well we do aim to please you know.

CUSTOMER: Not very well! Perhaps if I could have a word with the chef?

HEAD WAITER: Oh bless you Sir! The times I have been asked that! I would oblige Sir, but the chef is none too happy and anyway as of now I am not sure which one is on duty. We are awaiting the diners’ decision on that actually. But I can tell you what he would say, if you like? I say “he” Sir, we had a woman chef once, changed things a bit round ‘ere I can tell you. But I digress.

CUSTOMER: Yes, it might be a help if you could tell me what the chef would say - although an actual meet would be better.

HEAD WAITER: It is we waiters who deal with the chef for you Sir, always. Well Sir, all the chefs say the same. Menus are put together on a “best endeavours” basis but none of ‘em every really knows what produce they are going to be able to use. Unpredictable markets really. Obviously they have an idea - hence many menus look much the same - but as they would say, it all comes down to the allocation of scarce resources. No-one can say what will be scarce exactly, so to get a menu out at all is an achievement.

CUSTOMER: Hmm. Well I can understand resources may be limited and unpredictable, but I do think more effort could be made to give customers what they want.

HEAD WAITER: Cor bless you Sir - you sound just like one of the gentlemen who took over the Diner I was trained in. Wouldn’t hear of different menus, said it was all a waste. Just told the chef what he said the diners wanted and look sharp. Oh yes, everyone was well-impressed, for a while anyway. Then some diners drifted away, others started to ask for dishes long since orf, and well Sir, it did not end happy.

Cardinal Richelieu's mole said...

CUSTOMER: Yes but surely someone in authority here recognises the importance of customer focus……

HEAD WAITER: Couldn’t have put it better myself Sir - that (so we are told) is now a “key deliverable” and in all our training, Mind we are not done yet - you’re a friend of Mr Carswell, aren’t you Sir? I thought I recognised you. Yes, well as you know, he wants even more responsiveness to customers. [weary sigh] I don’t mind telling you Sir, I have seen it all before of course. When it comes down to it, it is all about what we term “conflict resolution”. Obviously by “conflict” I don’t mean fights (though some establishments I won’t name do go in for that sort of thing), rather I just mean different ideas on what should be done like, you know - where the priorities lie. You have no idea how many different decisions go into running a Diner - oh begging your pardon Sir, maybe you do - so you can imagine, with too many chefs as they say…!

WORK EXPERIENCE BUS BOY[ in nasal whine] Its jus’ economics and politics like, innit yeah?

HEAD WAITER:[ sharp but barely audible aside] You’ve been told before not to alarm the diners. Now clear those dishes and look lively.

CUSTOMER: Yes, maybe so, but why can I still not get what I want - isn’t that what it is supposed to be about?

HEAD WAITER: Dear oh dear Sir - something of an idealist are we Sir, if you don’t mind me asking? [chuckles in a friendly if weary manner ]That would be a “No” or if you are of a sensitive disposition a “not really”. You see the great thing is you are allowed into the Diner. Now we don’t want anything as unpleasant as Soup Kitchens, do we Sir? You do get a shout at who the chef is, we will hear your complaints if you make any, why I have even heard with my own ears customers asking for more! On occasion like. I kid you not Sir. Thing is though, well look around, we have to do the same and oblige for all the other diners in ‘ere. Not all of them are as, well how should I say Sir, not all of ‘em have your refinement. So we do out best, show what variety of menus the chefs hope will please, but in the end its all of you diners who make the choice. You are all, how should I put it without being indelicate - you are all bound by a collective responsibility for living with the outcome. Still the nice thing is you do get asked.

Cardinal Richelieu's mole said...

CUSTOMER: All very well my man but you have said yourself the menu we all choose is not necessarily the menu that gets served up! How is that right?

WORK EXPERIENCE BUS BOY[ in nasal whine of a higher pitch] We got a right one ‘ere and no mistake.

[screams in agony after sharp kick from Head Waiter and exits permanently]

HEAD WAITER: Well I don’t like to say it, but there are chefs and chefs Sir. But don’t be too hard on them, like I said, they never know what will be delivered to the kitchen you see.

CUSTOMER: If you say so, but are you not - or the waiter for my table - supposed to listen to what I want and make sure the chef is told to do his best with the scarce resources available?

HEAD WAITER: Very true Sir and I don’t doubt in an ideal Diner the customer would have the ear of the waiter and the waiter in turn the ear of the chef.

CUSTOMER: Well then?

HEAD WAITER: Well I wont say you can’t get the staff nowadays, ‘cos frankly if customers were as demanding as you Sir, begging your pardon and no offence intended, many a waiter (and I am not talking about my own regular staff now Sir) I know of would have to shape up or ship out. To be honest, I have seen waiters other than our own (that get sent to us from staff agencies, different ideas, ways of doing things, all sorts!) who chefs just ignore, fellows can’t stand the heat in the kitchen it seems. My advice, honestly Sir, is move to a different table or take up waiting yourself. It is not a bad life, used to be better I can’t deny, and customers (not you Sir!) can be a menace but all in all we do our bit to try to make the Diner work as it should. At least for now you get a seat at the table Sir, which ought to be a comfort.